A hat full of sky, p.24
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       A Hat Full of Sky, p.24

         Part #32 of Discworld series by Terry Pratchett
 
Page 24

 

  Here we are, said Miss Level, bustling over with three cups and saucers and the sugar bowl. One for you, one for you, and one for- Oh The sugar bowl dropped from an invisible hand and spilled its sugar onto the table. Miss Level stared at it in horror while, in the other hand that wasnt there, a cup and saucer wobbled without visible means of support. Shut your eyes, Miss Level! And there was something in the voice, some edge or strange tone that made Tiffany shut her eyes too. Right! Now, you know the cups there, you can feel your arm, said Mistress Weatherwax, standing up. Trust it! Your eyes are not in possession of all the facts! Now put the cup down gently . . . thaaats right. You can open your eyes now, but what I wants you to do, right, as a favour to me, is put the hands that you can see flat down on the table. Right. Good. Now, without takin those hands away, just go over to the dresser and fetch me that blue biscuit tin, will you? Im always partial to a biscuit with my tea. Thank you very much.

  But. . . but I cant do that now-

  Get past “I cant”, Miss Level, Mistress Weather-wax snapped. Dont think about it, just do it! My teas getting cold! So this is witchcraft too, Tiffany thought. Its like Granny Aching talking to animals. Its in the voice! Sharp and soft by turns, and you use little words of command and encouragement and you keep talking, making the words fill the creatures world, so that the sheepdogs obey you and the nervous sheep are calmed. . . The biscuit tin floated away from the dresser. As it neared the old woman the lid unscrewed and hovered in the air beside it. She reached in delicately. Ooh, store-bought Teatime Assortment, she said, taking four biscuits and quickly putting three of them in her pocket. Very posh.

  Its terribly difficult to do this! Miss Level moaned. Its like trying not to think of a pink rhinoceros!

  Well? said Mistress Weatherwax. Whats so special about not thinking of a pink rhinoceros?

  Its impossible not to think of one if someone tells you you mustnt, Tiffany explained. No it aint, said Mistress Weatherwax, firmly. I aint thinking of one right now, and I gives you my word on that. You want to take control of that brain of yours, Miss Level. So youve lost a spare body? Whats another body when alls said and done? Just a lot of upkeep, another mouth to feed, wear and tear on the furniture . . . in a word, fuss. Get your mind right, Miss Level, and the world is your The old witch leaned down to Tiffany and whispered: Whats that thing, lives in the sea, very small, folks eat it?

  Shrimp? Tiffany suggested, a bit puzzled. Shrimp? All right. The world is your shrimp, Miss Level. Not only will there be a great saving on clothes and food, which is not to be sneezed at in these difficult times, but when people see you moving things though the air, well, theyll say, “Theres a witch and a half, and no mistake!” and they will be right. You just hold on to that skill, Miss Level. You maintain. Think on what Ive said. And now you stay and rest. Well see to what needs doing today. You just make a little list for me, and Tiff any 11 know the way.

  Well, indeed, I do feel . . . somewhat shaken, said Miss Level, absent-mindedly brushing her hair out of her eyes with an invisible hand. Let me see . . . you could just drop in on Mr Umbril, and Mistress Turvy, and the young Raddle boy, and check on Mrs Towneys bruise, and take some Number Five ointment to Mr Drover, and pay a call on old Mrs Hunter at Saucy Corner and . . . now, who have I forgotten . . . ? Tiffany realized she was holding her breath. It had been a horrible day, and a dreadful night, but what was looming and queuing up for its place on Miss Levels tongue was, somehow, going to be worse than either. . . . Ah, yes, have a word with Miss Quickly at Uttercliff, and then probably youll need to talk to Mrs Quickly, too, and therere a few packages to be dropped off on the way, theyre in my basket, all marked up. And I think thats it. . . oh, no, silly me, I almost forgot . . . and you need to drop in on Mr Weavall, too. Tiffany breathed out. She really didnt want to. Shed rather not breathe ever again

  than face Mr Weavall and open an empty box. Are you sure youre . . . totally yourself, Tiffany? said Miss Level, and Tiffany leaped for this lifesaving excuse not to go. Well, I do feel a bit- she began, but Mistress Weatherwax interrupted with, Shes fine, Miss Level, apart from the echoes. The hiver has gone away from this house, I can assure you.

  Really? said Miss Level. I dont mean to be rude, but how can you be so certain? Mistress Weatherwax pointed down. Grain by grain, the spilled sugar was rolling across the tabletop and leaping into the sugar bowl. Miss Level clasped her hands together. Oh, Oswald/ she said, her face one huge smile, youve come back! Miss Level, and possibly Oswald, watched them go from the gate. Shell be fine with your little men keeping her company, said Mistress Weatherwax as she and Tiffany turned away and took the lane through the woods. It could be the making of her, you know, being half dead. Tiffany was shocked. How can you be so cruel?

  Shell get some respect when people see her moving stuff through the air. Respect is meat and drink to a witch. Without respect, you aint got a thing. She doesnt get much respect, our Miss Level. That was true. People didnt respect Miss Level. They liked her, in an unthinking sort of way, and that was it. Mistress Weatherwax was right, and Tiffany wished she wasnt. Why did you and Miss Tick send me to her, then? she said. Because she likes people, said the witch, striding ahead. She cares about em. Even the stupid, mean, dribbling ones, the mothers with the runny babies and no sense, the feckless and the silly and the fools who treat her like some kind of a servant. Now thats what I call magic - seein all that, dealin with all that, and still goin on. Its sittin up all night with some poor old man whos leavin the world, taking away such pain as you can, comfortin their terror, seein

  em safely on their way . . . and then cleanin

  em up, layin

  em out, making em neat for the funeral, and helpin the weeping widow strip the bed and wash the sheets - which is, let me tell you, no errand for the faint-hearted - and stayin up the next night to watch over the coffin before the funeral, and then going home and sitting down for five minutes before some shouting angry man comes bangin on your door cos his wifes havin difficulty givin birth to their first child and the midwifes at her wits end and then getting up and fetching your bag and going out again. . . We all do that, in our own way, and she does it bettern me, if I was to put my hand on my heart. That is the root and heart and soul and centre of witchcraft, that is. The soul and centre! Mistress Weatherwax smacked her fist into her hand, hammering out her words. The . . . soul. . . and . . . centre] Echoes came back from the trees in the sudden silence. Even the grasshoppers by

  the side of the track had stopped sizzling. And Mrs Earwig, said Mistress Weatherwax, her voice sinking to a growl, Mrs Earwig tells her girls its about cosmic balances and stars and circles and colours and wands and . . . and toys, nothing but toys! She sniffed. Oh, I daresay theyre all very well as decoration, somethin nice to look at while youre workin, somethin for show, but the start and finish, the start and finish, is helpin people when life is on the edge. Even people you dont like. Stars is easy, people is hard. She stopped talking. It was several seconds before birds began to sing again. Anyway, thats what I think, she added in the tone of someone who suspects that they might have gone just a bit further than they meant to. She turned round when Tiffany said nothing, and saw that she had stopped and was standing in the lane looking like a drowned hen. Are you all right, girl? she said. It was me! wailed Tiffany. The hiver was me! It wasnt thinking with my brain, it was using my thoughts! It was using what it found in my head! All those insults, all that. . . She gulped. That . . . nastiness. All it was was me with-

  - without the bit of you that was locked away, said Mistress Weatherwax sharply. Remember that.

  Yes, but supposing- Tiffany began, struggling to get all the woe out. The locked-up bit was the important bit, said Mistress Weatherwax. Learnin how not to do things is as hard as learning how to do them. Harder, maybe. Thered be a sight more frogs in this world if I didnt know how not to turn people into them. And big pink balloons, too.

  Dont, said Tiffany, shuddering. Thats
why we do all the tramping around and doctorin and stuff, said Mistress Weatherwax. Well, and because it makes people a bit better, of course. But doing it moves you into your centre, sos you dont wobble. It anchors you. Keeps you human, stops you cackling. Just like your granny with her sheep, which are to my mind as stupid and wayward and ungrateful as humans. You think youve had a sight of yourself and found out youre bad? Hah! Ive seen bad, and you dont get near it. Now, are you going to stop grizzling?

  What? snapped Tiffany. Mistress Weatherwax laughed, to Tiffanys sudden fury. Yes, youre a witch to your boots, she said. Youre sad, and behind that youre watching yourself being sad and thinking, Oh, poor me, and behind that youre angry with me for not going “There, there, poor dear. ” Let me talk to those Third Thoughts then, because I want to hear from the girl who went to fight a fairy queen armed with nothin but a fryin pan, not some child feelin sorry for herself and wallowing in misery!

  What? I am not wallowing in misery! Tiffany shouted, striding up to her until they were inches apart. And what was all that about being nice to people, eh? Overhead, leaves fell off the trees.

  That doesnt count when its another witch, especially one like you! Mistress Weatherwax snapped, prodding her in the chest with a finger as hard as wood. Oh? Oh? And whats that supposed to mean? A deer galloped off through the woods. The wind got up. One whos not paying attention, child!

  Why, what have I missed that you ve seen . . . old woman?

  Old woman I may be, but Im tellin you the hiver is still around! You only threw it out! Mistress Weatherwax shouted. Birds rose from the trees in panic. I know! screamed Tiffany. Oh yes? Really? And how do you know that?

  Because theres a bit of me still in it! A bit of me Id rather not know about, thank you! I can feel it out there! Anyway, how do you know!

  Because Im a bloody good witch, thats why, snarled Mistress Weatherwax, as rabbits burrowed deeper to get out of the way. And what do you want me to do about the creature while you sit there snivellin, eh?

  How dare you! How dare you! Its my responsibility! Ill deal with it, thank you so very much!

  You? A hiver? Itll take more than a frying pan! They cant be killed!

  Ill find a way! A witch deals with things!

  Hah! Id like to see you try!

  I will! shouted Tiffany. It started to rain. Oh? So you know how to attack it, do you?

  Dont be silly! I cant! It can always keep out of my way! It can even sink into the ground! But itll come looking for me, understand? Me, not anyone else! I know it! And this time Ill be ready!

  Will you, indeed? said Mistress Weatherwax, folding her arms. Yes!

  When?

  Now!

  No! The old witch held up a hand. Peace be on this place, she said, quietly. The wind dropped. The rain stopped. No, not yet, she went on as peace once again descended. Its not attackin yet. Dont you think thats odd? Itd be licking its wounds, if it had a tongue. And youre not ready yet, whatever you thinks. No, weve got somethin else to do, havent we? Tiffany was speechless. The tide of outrage inside her was so hot that it burned her ears. But Mistress Weatherwax was smiling. The two facts did not work well together. Her first thoughts were: Ive just had a blazing row with Mistress Weatherwax! They say that if you cut her with a knife she wouldnt bleed until she wanted to! They say that when some vampires bit her they all started to crave tea and sweet biscuits. She can do anything, be anywhere! And I called her an old woman! Her Second Thoughts were: Well, she is. Her Third Thoughts were: Yes, she is Mistress Weatherwax. And shes keeping you angry. If youre full of anger, theres no room left for fear.

 
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